talks with gurdjieff
george ivanovich gurdjieff (1866-1949)

new york, february 20, 1924

everywhere and always there is affirmation and negation, not only in individuals but in the whole of mankind as well. if one half of mankind affirms something, the other half denies it. for instance, there are two opposing currents—science and religion. what science affirms, religion denies and vice versa. this is a mechanical law and it cannot be otherwise. it operates everywhere and on every scale—in the world, in cities, in the family, in the inner life of an individual man. one center of a man affirms, another denies. we are always a particle of these two.

it is an objective law and everybody is a slave of this law; for instance, i must be a slave of either science or religion. in either case man is a slave of this objective law. it is impossible to free oneself from it. only he is free who stands in the middle. if he can do this, he escapes from this general law of slavery. but how to escape? it is very difficult. we are not strong enough not to submit to this law. we are slaves. we are weak. yet the possibility exists of our getting free from this law; if we try slowly, gradually, but steadily. from the objective point of view this means, of course, to go against the law, against nature, in other words, to commit sin. but we can do so because a law of a different order exists as well; we have been given another law by God.

what then is necessary to achieve this? let us take again the first example: religion and science. i shall discuss this with myself, and each man should try to do the same.

i reason in this way: i am a small man. i have only lived for fifty years, and religion has existed for thousands of years. thousands of men have studied these religions and yet i deny them. i ask myself: "is it possible that they were all fools and that only i am clever?" the situation is the same with science. it has also existed for many years. suppose i deny it. again the same question arises: "can it be that i alone am more clever than all the multitude of men who have studied science for so long a time?"

if i reason impartially i shall understand that i may be more intelligent than one or two men but not than a thousand. if i am a normal man and i reason without being biased, i shall understand that i cannot be more intelligent than millions. i repeat, i am but a small man. how can i criticize religion and science? what then is possible? i begin to think that perhaps there is some truth in them; it is impossible for everyone to be mistaken. so now i set myself the task of trying to understand what it is all about. when i begin to think and study impartially, i find that religion and science are both right, in spite of the fact that they are opposed to one another. i discover a small mistake one side takes one subject; the other side, another. or they study the same subject but from different angles; or one studies the causes, the other the effects of the same phenomenon, and so they never meet. but both are right, for both are based on laws that are mathematically exact. if we take only the result, we shall never understand in what the difference consists.

question: In what way does your system differ from the philosophy of the yogis?

answer: Yogis are idealists; we are materialists. i am a skeptic. the first injunction inscribed on the walls of the institute is: "believe nothing, not even yourself." i believe only if i have statistical proof; that is, only if i have obtained the same result over and over again. i study, i work for guidance, not for belief.

i shall try to explain something schematically, only do not take it literally, but try to understand the principle.

apart from the law of three, already known to you, there is the law of seven, which says that nothing remains at rest; each thing moves either in the direction of evolution or in the direction of involution. only there is a limit to both these movements. in every line of development there are two points where it cannot proceed without extraneous help. in two definite places an additional shock is needed coming from an external force. everything needs to be pushed at these points; otherwise it cannot continue to move. we find this law of seven everywhere—in chemistry, physics, etc.: the same law operates in everything.

the best example of this law is the structure of the musical scale. let us take a musical octave for explanation. we begin with do. between it and the next note there is a semitone, and do is able to pass into re. in the same way re is able to pass into mi. but mi does not have this possibility, so something extraneous must give it a shock to make it pass into fa. fa is able to move on to sol, sol to la, la to si. but just as in the case of mi, si also needs extraneous help.

every result is a do, not in the course of the process but as an element. each do is in itself a whole octave. there are a number of musical instruments which can produce seven out of this do. each of these seven is a do. every unit has seven units in itself and, upon division, results in another seven units. in dividing do we again obtain do, re, me and so on.

evolution of food

man is a three-storied factory. we have said that there are three kinds of food, entering through three different doors. the first kind of food is what is usually called food: bread, meat, etc.

each kind of food is a do. in the organism the do passes into other notes. each do has the possibility of passing into re in the stomach, where the substances of food change their vibrations and their density. these substances are transformed chemically, become mixed, and by means of certain combinations pass into re. re also has the possibility of passing into mi. but mi cannot evolve by itself. here the food of the second octave comes to its assistance. the do of the second kind of food, that is, of the second octave, helps mi of the first octave to pass into fa, after which its evolution can proceed further. in its turn, at a similar point, the second octave, helps mi of the first octave to pass into fa, after which its evolution can proceed further. in its turn, at a similar point, the second octave also requires help from a higher octave. it is helped by a note of the third octave, that is, of the third kind of food—the octave of "impressions."

thus the first octave evolves up to si. the final substance that the human organism can produce from what is usually called food is si. so the evolution of a piece of bread reaches si. but si cannot develop further in an ordinary man. if si could develop and pass into do of a new octave, it would be possible to build a new body within us. this needs special conditions. man, by himself, cannot become a new man; special inner combinations are necessary.


when such a special matter accumulates in sufficient quantities, it may begin to crystallize, as salt begins to crystallize in water if more than a certain proportion of it is added. when a great deal of fine matter accumulates in a man, there comes a moment when a new body can form and crystallize in him: the do of a new octave, a higher octave. this body, often called the astral, can only be formed from this special matter and cannot come into being unconsciously. in ordinary conditions, this matter may be produced in the organism, but is used and thrown out.

to build this body inside man is the aim of all religions and all schools; every religion has its own special way, but the aim is always the same.

there are many ways toward achieving this aim. i have studied about two hundred religions, but if they are to be classified, i would say that there exist only four ways.

imagine a man as a flat with four rooms. the first room is our physical body and corresponds to the cart in another illustration i have given. the second room is the emotional center, or the horse; the third room, the intellectual center, or the driver; and the fourth room, the master.

every religion understands that the master is not there and seeks him. but a master can be there only when the whole flat is furnished. before receiving visitors, all the rooms should be furnished.

everyone does this in his own way. if a man is not rich, he furnishes every room separately, little by little. in order to furnish the fourth room, one must first furnish the other three. the four ways differ according to the order in which the three rooms are furnished.

the first way begins with the furnishing of the first room, and so on.

the fourth way

the fourth way is the way of "haida-yoga." it resembles the way of the yogi, but at the same time it has something different.

like the yogi, the "haida-yogi" studies everything that can be studied. but he has the means of knowing more than an ordinary yogi can know. in the east there exists a custom: if i know something, i tell it only to my eldest son. in this manner certain secrets are passed on, and outsiders cannot learn them.

of a hundred yogis perhaps only one knows these secrets. the point is that there is a certain prepared knowledge which speeds up work on the way.

what is the difference? i shall explain with an example. let us suppose that in order to obtain a certain substance a yogi must do a breathing exercise. he knows that he must lie down and breathe for a certain time. a "haida-yogi" also knows all that a yogi knows, and does the same as he. but a "haida-yogi" has a certain apparatus with the help of which he can collect from the air the elements required for his body. a "haida-yogi" saves time because he knows these secrets.

a yogi spends five hours, a "haida-yogi" one hour. the latter uses knowledge which the yogi has not got. a yogi does in a year what a "haida-yogi" does in a month. and so it is in everything.

all these ways aim at one thing—to transform si inwardly into a new body.

just as a man can build his astral body by an orderly process conforming to law, so he can construct within himself a third body and can then begin to build a fourth body. one body comes into being inside another. they can be separated, and sit on different chairs.

all the ways, all schools have one and the same aim, they always strive for one thing. but a man who has joined one of the ways may not realize this. a monk has faith and thinks that one can only succeed in his way. his teacher alone knows the aim, but he purposely does not tell him, for if his pupil knew he would not work so hard.

each way has its own theories, its own proofs.

matter is the same everywhere, but it constantly changes place and enters into different combinations. from the density of a stone to the finest matter, each do has its own emanation, it own atmosphere; for each thing either eats or is eaten. one thing eats another; i eat you, you eat him, and so on.

everything within man either evolves or involves. an entity is something which remains for a certain duration without involving. each substance, whether organic or inorganic, can be an entity. later we shall see that everything is organic. every entity emanates, sends forth certain matter. this refers equally to the earth, to man, and to the microbe. the earth on which we live has its own emanations, its own atmosphere. planets are also entities, they also emanate, as do the suns. by means of positive and negative matter new formations resulted from the emanations of the suns. the result of one of these combinations is our earth.

the emanations of every entity have their limits, and therefore each place has a different density of matter. after the act of creation, existence continues, as do emanations. here on this planet there are emanations of the earth, the planets, and the sun. but the emanations of the earth spread only so far, and beyond that limit there are only emanations coming from the sun and the planets, but not from the earth.

in the region of emanations coming from the earth and the moon, matter is denser; above this region, it is finer. emanations penetrate everything, according to their possibilities. in this way they reach man.

there are other suns besides ours. just as i grouped all the planets together, so now i group all the suns and their emanations together. further than that we can no longer see, but we may logically speak of a world of a higher order. for us it is the last point. it, too, has its own emanations.

according to the law of three, matter constantly enters into various combinations, becomes more dense, meets with other matter and becomes still denser, thus changing all its properties and possibilities. for instance, in the higher spheres, intelligence is in its pure form, but as it descends it becomes less intelligent.

every entity has intelligence, that is, is more or less intelligent. if we take the density of the absolute as 1, the next density will be 3, or three times more dense, because in god, as in everything, there are three forces. the law is the same everywhere.

the density of the next matter will be twice as great as the density of the second and six times greater than the density of the first matter. the density of the next matter is 12, and in a certain place it is 48. this means that this matter is 48 times heavier, 48 times less intelligent, and so on. we can know the weight of each matter if we know its place. or, if we know its weight, we shall also know from which place that matter comes.

it is impossible to be impartial, even when nothing touches you on the raw. such is the law, such is the human psyche. we shall speak later about the why and wherefore of it. in the meantime we shall formulate it thus:

1) the human machine has something that does not allow it to remain impartial, that is, to reason calmly and objectively, without being touched on the raw, and
2) at times it is possible to free oneself from this feature by special efforts.

concerning this second point i am asking you now to wish to, and to make, this effort, in order that our conversation should not be like all other conversations in ordinary life, that is, mere pouring from the empty into the void, but should be productive both for yourselves and for me.

i called usual conversations pouring from the empty into the void. And indeed, think seriously about the long time each of us has lived in the world and the many conversations we have had! ask yourselves, look into yourselves—have all those conversations ever led to anything? do you know anything as surely as indubitably as, for instance, that two and two make four? if you search sincerely in yourselves and give a sincere answer, you will say they have not led to anything.

so our common sense can conclude from past experience that, since this way of talking has so far led to nothing, it will lead to nothing in the future. even if a man were to live a hundred years, the result would be the same.

consequently, we must look for the cause of this and if possible change it. our purpose, then, is to find this cause; so, from the first steps, we shall try to alter our way of carrying on a conversation.

last time we spoke a little about the law of three. i said that this law is everywhere and in everything. it is also found in conversation. for instance, if people talk, one person affirms, another denies. if they don't argue, nothing comes of those affirmations and negations. if they argue, a new result is produced, that is, a new conception unlike that of the man who affirmed or that of the one who denied.

this too is a law, for one cannot altogether say that your former conversations never brought any results. there has been a result, but this result has not been for you but for something or someone outside you.

but now we speak of results in us, or of those we wish to have in us. so, instead of this law acting through us, outside us, we wish to bring it within ourselves, for ourselves. and in order to achieve this we have merely to change the field of action of this law.

what you have done so far when you affirmed, denied and argued with others, i want you now to do with yourselves, so that the results you get may not be objective, as they have been so far, but subjective.